As is the case with virtually every ba’al k’riyah with whom I have “talked shop,” I too began laining (reading the Torah) within a couple of months after my bar mitzvah, initially taking on one aliyah every week or two, until I worked my way up so that right before college, I was able to lain a whole parsha.
Over the years, I developed laining goals, including reading all 5 Megillot from a klaf, which I now do every year. One item that remained at the very top of my “laining bucket list” for many years, however, was my desire to lain every one of the 54 parshiyot in the Torah in one annual cycle without missing a single week!
As a ba’al k’riyah, I was reading an average of 47 or so parshiyot a year, probably topped out at 50. But things always come up over the course of a typical year that can cause you to miss an occasional week: a bar mitzvah boy who will be laining that week, someone wanting to lain on the anniversary of their bar mitzvah parsha, and simply being away in another community for a visit, vacation, or hopefully for a simcha. In particular, I knew those weeks when we would be away would require weeks of pre-planning and the cooperation of the community where we would be on a given Shabbat.
Ironically, I started off my quest with a challenge: I spent Shabbat B’reishit, the first of the 54, in Great Neck, New York, as one of my closest friends was getting married that weekend. Thanks to some help from my brother and the cooperation of some amazing individuals at his shul, Young Israel of Great Neck, I was able to lain at their teen minyan. And so the quest began…..
The next few months found me laining at my regular shul in Boynton Beach (Anshei Chesed Congregation), at the main minyan and sometimes at the hashkamah minyan. It also saw me laining back home in Charleston at the BSBI Minyan House about three times on visits to my parents. The “closest call” I had overall was Shabbat Nachamu in Charleston. At my parents’ neighborhood shul, a significant number of “regulars” were out of town and getting a minyan that week was very tight. Thanks to some of my father’s lifelong friends, we were able to just eke out a minyan and I was able to lain.
As the summer and Chagim approached, I knew that there would be some weeks that required some planning to make it work. There was a bar mitzvah on Shabbat Be’ha’a’lo’t’cha at our shul, but I was able to form a hashkamah minyan that Shabbat at which I lained, even though we don’t usually have a hashkama minyan in the summer. I lained in Miami Beach for Shabbat Balak when visiting dear friends in July. A shul in Boca Raton had spoken with me about leading services for them for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which would require us to be there for the Shabbat following Rosh Hashana. It must have been a bit odd when I told them that the only requirement I had was that I be able to lain parashat Ha’azinu on Shabbat Shuvah (#53!). They excitedly agreed once they learned of my quest.
As I neared the end of my project, I launched a charity campaign in tandem with my laining project on Nachum Segal’s “JM in the AM” radio show. You can listen to the interview at http://bit.ly/2yJHwdy. My wife and I selected four charities (Pancreatic Cancer Research Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ezer Mizion and Sharsheret) and decided that all monies raised would be equally divided amongst the four recipient charities. You may still contribute at : https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=sgGS3-WBwgKmSSC_DAJo98RhbCMOR4v_Il6a2vugubnxOZ_cANgYWR6KrAqym1_VTs4Rkm&country.x=US&locale.x=US .
In my local community, several friends/neighbors/shul members had been tracking my quest, asking each week, “So, what number was today? Still in the game?” I would happily tell them what number I was up to and that I was thankfully still on track.
As we approached Simchat Torah, I was holding at 53 down, 1 to go…I was very reflective in the last few days, thankful that I have a wife and kids who were so supportive in this project, thankful that my parents and siblings and friends could all share in the accomplishment, and appreciative of everyone who had contributed to my fundraiser so that this was not only a personal achievement.
Simchat Torah morning arrived. I always get emotional each year when I complete the reading of the Torah, but I was wondering what would be running through my mind when, G-d willing, I completed my goal of laining every word of the Torah in one year.
Then it arrived….the chatan Torah aliyah, purchased as an honor by our good friend, Alan Greene, from West Hempstead. I made my way down the aliyah on the 245th and final column in the Torah. Remarkably, I even made it through the reading of Moshe’s death without losing it. However, about 3 pesukim from the end, I felt that it was inevitable that the emotions were about to surface.
As I read those words, I felt so thankful that G-d gave me another year of good health and the ability to complete another Torah cycle. Realizing that what I had thought about doing for many years was actually seconds away from becoming a reality and the uniqueness of what I was about to accomplish was what was running through my mind. I took a couple of very deep breaths before the last three words of the Torah. I thought to myself that in a perfect world, how amazing it would be if my dad and brother could have been standing right up there at the bimah, under the tallis, to witness this moment in person.
And then it was done! As I finished and recited “Chazak, Chazak, v’Nit’chazayk”, I banged my left hand down on the table, declaring to myself “DONE!” Alan wrapped me up in a huge bear hug and whispered to me, “What an incredible achievement and I am so privileged to share this aliyah! I shall never forget this moment!” Men spontaneously flooded over to the bimah – some with actual tears in their eyes, matching the tears in mine and in Tzippi’s upstairs – and formed an impromptu greeting line in which one after another began hugging and kissing me, wishing me “Mazal Tov!”
How amazing a culmination to the end of my “54 in 1” project! It began on Saturday, October 29, 2016 and ended on Friday, October 13, 2017….350 days…245 columns…54 parshiyot…5,845 pesukim….79,976 words…304,805 letters…..47 Shabbatot and Simchat Torah….DONE!!!!! Chazak Chazak v’Nitchazayk!!!!!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.